The Best Affordable Audio Interfaces
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If you want to start recording with some XRL mics or going direct with a guitar/bass you are going to need an audio interface. Interfaces range widely in look, features, and price, but they all do the same process of converting analog to digital. So, how do you pick out one from the rest? Well, a great place to start is looking at the feature set you're going to need. For this list, I have selected interfaces that all fit into the most common situation. For beginners, your most likely just going to need one to two mic/line inputs for recording everything one at a time. If you are looking to record drums or a live band you are going to want to look for an interface that has more inputs and outputs than these. It's also worth noting that compatibility is important when talking interfaces, do you need a Firewire interface? Or a USB? Will your DAW work with the interface? While things are becoming more and more compatible, it is still a good idea to always double-check. With that in mind, here are four of the best basic interfaces at an affordable price point.
Behringer UMC22 – $56.68
For those looking for the simplest and most cost-effective option, the Behringer UMC 22 is a great place interface to check out. This one is going to be ideal for people with very barebones recording needs. For inputs, you have both a mic/line and a dedicated instrument ¼ inch spot. The mic input is sporting a Midas designed preamp that sits above most other internal preamps on interfaces at this price point. Additionally, you have a standard ¼ headphone in. Looking at the outputs, you get a very humble configuration of L/R monitor outs and the USB connection for your computer. While the sound quality is not going to be parallel with some of the more expensive options on this list, you do get a lot of bang for your buck with this Behringer. Overall, this is interface is a simple starting point that does exactly what it should very well.
PreSonus AudioBox – $99.95
If you are looking for something a bit more focus on audio quality, paying the extra money for an AudioBox is worth it. PreSonus makes great affordable… well, everything, and their interfaces are no exception. In particular, their AudioBox interface is an awesome cross-section of versatility and performance. Boosting two mic/line inputs with phantom power and a headphone input, you get those staples of good affordable interfaces. A really nice less-common feature on the AudioBox is in the form of its MIDI I/O. For a lot of recording, midi is a vital part of the music-making process, yet surprisingly enough you don’t see it as a feature on many low-cost interfaces. It’s also worth mentioning that this interface comes with the artist version of PreSouns’s DAW Studio One. This is a great addition for the beginners out there to be able to jump into recording music with ease. However, even if you use a different DAW already, this interface is a super solid choice for anyone at this cost.
Focusrite Scarlett2i2 – $139.99
The Scarlett series from Focusrite is found in so many home studios across the world, and for good reasons. Specifically, the 2i2 provides a great platform for those wanting to record with just a couple and get great sound quality. The heart and soul of these audio interfaces are in Focusrite’s preamps. Focusrite has always held a position of excellence when it comes to there preamps. Even though you are not getting the same exact ones from there more expensive units, the preamps in all the Scarlett interfaces sound great. In fact, they are fantastic when considering just how little you are actually paying for them. As far as inputs go, you are getting two mic/line ports that can be switched from instrument to line level. For most people, these will cover what you're trying to do, there simple but versatile enough. The verdict here is that you cannot go wrong with the 2i2 or any of the Scarlett stuff.
Audient iD14 – $299.00
The last entry on this list comes with a significant price increase compared to any of the other options. Additionally, it doesn’t really add any functionality that the others do not already have. So, you are probably asking yourself at this point, then why it is on this list? Well, like the Focusrite stuff, this one all comes down to the sound quality. The preamps are really what you pay for as you get into more and more expensive interfaces. This iD14 has some of the best I have ever heard at $300, just read the reviews and you’ll find most people agree with me. But I understand it can be hard to spend extra money on something when all you have to go off is, “it sounds better”. Yet, the truth is, that sound quality should be your top priority if you are trying to get into music production. It is just the way pro audio works; you get what you pay for. While all the options on this list are a great value, this one sounds the best (subjectively speaking of course).
Many great options exist when looking for audio gear. We are currently living in the most budget-friendly time the recording world has ever seen. In the end, you will probably be satisfied with any of the picks on this list, just make sure you're getting the features you need!